President Donald Trump's pick of Elaine Chao, 63, as U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary was approved handily by the full Senate today on a vote of 93-6.
Chao, formerly U.S. Secretary of Labor and Deputy Secretary of Transportation, was approved by the Senate's Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee January 24 and was expected to be approved by the full body.
Her husband, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and several members of her family were present for the amiable and complimentary Senate committee hearing, with Chao saying that rules and regulations were often hard to understand and should be more about compliance than enforcement and that state and federal governments should make an effort to conduct public "outreach" programs to make rules clear and create a "culture of safety."
She continued that the challenge in rulemakings is to achieve a "balance" with safety and making sure regulations are "based on sound science and true data ... ."
She also remarked that innovation and creativity were the "hallmarks" of America and that the federal government should advance the development of autonomous and smart vehicles while addressing safety and other concerns without "dampening" innovation.
Calling U.S. infrastructure the "underpinning of [U.S.] economy" and a "key factor of productivity," Chao several times mentioned the need for private investment in fixing roads and bridges, noting that the "government can't do it all."
Funding needs to be "innovative," she said, and a mix of public and private funding mechanisms, including public-private partnerships, known as PPPs. She added that the process of development and delivery of road and bridge projects shouldn't be bogged down in red tape and that the "unique needs" of rural communities should be addressed along with urban projects.
She also declared that intermodal facets of transportation should work together to move freight efficiently and not see themselves as competitors.
Chao admitted that the federal Highway Trust Fund was "in bad shape" because fuel taxes are not as "lucrative" as they had been because of more fuel-efficient vehicles and that there continues to be a $10 billion deficit each year and that the HTF will go bankrupt by about 2021.
NATSO President and CEO Lisa Mullings congratulated Chao, saying the organization “looks forward to working with her on a broad spectrum of issues, including the need to find permanent, sustainable solutions to funding the Highway Trust Fund.”
Ray LaHood, former secretary of transportation and co-chair of Building America's Future, said, “Congratulations to Elaine Chao on her confirmation as Secretary of Transportation. I am confident that under her leadership, the future of our roads, rails, runways and transit systems will be in good hands.” He said Chao had “a strong understanding of Washington and how to engage the private sector, as well as the importance of consulting with mayors and governors.”
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